Friday, January 29, 2010

Flashback; DEFENDERS

Three things stand out for me regarding the
Marvel Comics title, THE DEFENDERS:
it was the most constantly mercurial comic
I can recall, and it was the most consistently
entertaining for a comic with a decent issue
run. And man, did it push controversy!

Modern readers might say 'Meh,' but in
the Seventies, the devil's offspring, race riots,
possession, drunk driving, insanity, and other
racy topics were NOT part of the comics

The Defenders came together as their
trade-marked 'non-team' team in a few
early pairings of some characters you
couldn't imagine less compatible; The Hulk,
Dr. Strange, and Namor. Later, in a test run
in Marvel Feature, the Silver Surfer was

Actually, none of those characters held
much interest for me. I loved their
interactive dynamic; full of strife and
discord and instability. I could relate
to that! But the characters themselves
did not rock me on their own.

When the Valkyrie was added, something
clicked. Now the wheels of change and
growth had started; fresh blood and conflict!
I had loved the character as Roy Thomas
had originally presented her in both forms,
and loved the fierce warrior with a secret!

When Nighthawk and Hellcat came along,
filling out the dysfunctional family's kids,
it was a perfect match. The three 'newbies'
with their spirit and connection balanced
out the old guard. It was the perfect
exploration of the generational gap in the

The writing on the series was constantly
phenomenal. Creators like Steve Gerber,
Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, David
Anthony Kraft, Steven Grant, Peter B.
Gillis, J.M. DeMatteis, and others. Each
writer brought such a distinctive edge to
the book, transforming it but maintaining
the appeal and making the change organic.

Englehart perfected the oddness of the
team and their characterizations. Gerber
brought a whole new level of surreal
goodness to not just The Defenders, but
the genre in general; his work can't be
touched to this day for the bizarre and
unique plots! David Kraft brought more
humor and politics (which I loved) into
the fray.

J.M. DeMatteis introduced a whole other
level of intensity with spiritual, sexual, and
other philosophizing. And Peter Gillis took
'dark' and complex to a whole new level.
Screw a 'dark knight.'

Even when there was an issue that didn't
appeal to me as much, like the sci-fi stuff
and a focus on the Big Three, it was okay
because the scope of the book was so broad
that it made sense there would be things
that didn't 'fit.'

The biggest appeal was two-fold--and a bit
contradictory! The book was a constantly
evolving mismatched collection of outsiders
and loners who had no connection.

And it was a book about family. This was
really a world-view progressive title that
embraced concepts like multi-culturalism
and inclusiveness far more realistically than
(dare I say it?) the still-wonderful Claremont
& Byrne X-Men. The 'differentness' just was;
there wasn't a big focus on it.

There was also the soap opera appeal of the
series; plenty of ongoing, convoluted,
dramatized sub-plots! And lots of ties to
the rest of the Marvel Universe. Stories like
a finish to the OMEGA comic, the saga of
SQUADRON SUPREME, crossovers with
Captain America, Avengers, New Mutants,
and more.

Guest stars were always a welcome addition
to the crazy mix, depicting how even amongst
outcasts there can be differences and divisions!
Great characters like Luke Cage, Daredevil,
Yellow Jacket, Red Guardian, and Devil Slayer
filled out the B, C, and D-list extras that made
the mag so fab! (After all; it would be hard to
reveal a history of drug abuse with a major
top-tier hero! Suicide attempt? Trans-gendered?
Inter-racial dating? All of these 'taboo' subjects
and more were incorporated.)

Artwork on the series was as different as
the line-up and storytelling style. But from
clean and crisp Sal Buscema (with those
incredible Klaus Janson inks!!) to those
dark and moody Don Perlin/Kim DeMulder
graphics, it was all good to me!
The handful of Keith Giffen/+Klaus Janson
issues were heaven, too!

One of my fondest memories were those
terrific covers from a host of artists when the
title changed to NEW DEFENDERS; folks like
Sandy Plunkett, Kevin Nowlan, Bill Seinkiewicz,
and more doing fantastic showcases!

Just as the team itself in the original series,
the name 'Defenders' has been through some
changes over the decades. After the original
series, there have been several attempts to
revive the franchise.

My favorite was the Erik Larsen and Kurt
Busiek offering which combined a nostalgic
retro feel of both history, quirkiness, and humor.
Unfortunately, it was too good to last in today's

To my surprise, THE LAST DEFENDERS
was outstanding. It took what had been established,
worked within that framework, and still came up
with a new twist.

There's plenty of dated stuff in THE DEFENDERS,
as with any printed work, but it stands the test
of time. Modern readers can enjoy reading the series
as a stand-alone book; an alternative to break from
the 'same-old, same-old.'
For individual issues or Trade Paperbacks, check out my
store of choice, Lone Star Comics for great prices!
>Buy comic books at


(Maybe my fave issue ever; All of the one-shot
wonders and forgotten D-listers from the Marvel
Universe come crashing down on Defenders' HQ
for try-outs! "Morts and Jobbers...UNITE!")

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